chapter  3
31 Pages

“All Smell is Disease”

Medical Realism in Charles Dickens’s Narratives of Sanitation
ByChung-jen Chen

In Chapter 3, I read Dickens’s Bleak House in light of sanitary reforms in which poverty is presented as a source of corruption detectable by scent. By tracing the correlations in slum narratives between cleanliness, lighting, good ventilation, and health, on the one hand, and filth, staleness, dampness, and illness, on the other hand, this chapter analyzes Victorian cognition of sanitation embodied in Dickens’s practice of medical realism. Possible threats to human health and public welfare were made material and medical by detailed descriptions of moral corruption and the degradation of the quality of the living environment. Dickens’s city slums become the most likely arena for any social movement to take place.